Heather and Talon Matson of Batavia, like so many Ohioans these days, say they are being harassed by aggressive energy salesmen.
"They come almost daily and knock on our door, and ask if we want to switch carriers. They are pretty forceful,” Heather Matson said. "They kind of push their way in and ask to see your bill, and promise to save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars."
These salespeople work for competitors to Duke Energy, under a plan approved by Ohio lawmakers over a decade ago. Unlike in Indiana and Kentucky, Ohio ratepayers are allowed to switch electric and gas providers, ostensibly to save money on their monthly bills.
But it often doesn’t turn out that way, as the Matsons discovered.
“We noticed our bill was $500, and we thought that was really high,” Heather said.
On that current bill, a whopping $251 of it is an electric supplier charge, for their two-bedroom apartment. They inspected it more carefully and said, "We noticed that there was another company besides Duke Energy that was charging us to supply us electric."
The Matsons had had their electric service switched to an alternate provider that they don’t recall signing up for. However, when they called to complain about the unusually high rate (much higher than what they had been paying under Duke), they received some bad news: They are required by law to pay it.
"The only thing we could do was pay them or be disconnected."
Talon Matson insists they never approved this third-party company to take over their electric service and suspect it switched over to the new provider when their one-year agreement with another company ended.
“They are literally purchasing, lock, stock and barrel, account numbers. It should be illegal," he said.
Are they allowed to do this?
Switching electric or gas service without your consent is illegal. However, Duke energy spokeswoman Sally Thelen says Duke has thousands -- yes thousands -- of complaints about aggressive sales people who claim to be working with Duke, calling and knocking on doors, offering a “discount” on your bill.
"They are very predatory," Thelen said. "We even have employees getting calls. We are turning them into the Public Utility Commission (of Ohio), making sure our legal team is very aware.”
The State of Ohio allows unsolicited solicitation by energy companies by mail, phone, or door-to-door.
But they are supposed to make it clear that they are with a competitor and not working for Duke Energy. And they are not supposed to ask for your account number, something Thelen says they are often doing.
"Really their tactics are getting more aggressive. So we want to remind customers we are never going to call you for your account number because we already have it. So be vigilant. Don’t share it over the phone. Don’t share it if someone comes to your front door," Thelen said.
What you can do
Thelen suggests you never show an energy salesman your bill because you are giving him your name, address and Duke account number. An unscrupulous salesperson (who may be paid by the number of accounts switched over) can use that information, along with something that looks like your signature, to switch you to an alternate provider.
Thelen says deceptive sales phrases include:
"We work with Duke." No they don’t.
"We can get you a rebate (or refund) on your bill." No they can’t.
We need to see your bill to see if you qualify for a discount." No they don’t. A Duke worker will never need to see your bill or account number because they already have it.
Some alternate providers can save you a substantial amount of money compared with Duke. However, some are even more expensive. Your best bet is to compare rates before you switch at the Public Utility Commission of Ohio's Apples to Apples chart.
And before you switch, make sure you are not already signed on with a competitor because you could be hit with a $150 early termination fee.
Finally, if you are harassed like the Matsons in Batavia, file a complaint with Duke and with the PUCO.
"We just want our Duke account back and for this to end," Heather Matson said.
One thing she is sure of: She will never show her bill to anyone who knocks on her door in the future.